Monday, December 9, 2013

The Science of Terrible Gifts

Tis the season...for getting really crappy gifts.

Do you throw it away, or are you a re-gifter? No matter how you deal with the mounds of useless stuff, every year it never fails. It's as inevitable as the sun rising and Santa ho-ho-ho-ing. You will receive some gifts that make you think:

What the hell?

Why do people give crummy gifts to the ones they know and love? There was an interesting study published in The Journal of Consumer Research suggests that familiarity actually makes it more difficult to figure out and predict what our loved ones prefer.

Dr. Davy Lerouge of Tilburg University, the Netherlands and Dr. Luk Warlop from Katholieke University, Belgium found that we buy crappy gifts even even when armed with lots of information about our loved ones. In fact, we have the most trouble understanding the tastes of those we know a lot about.

Lerouge and Warlop set up a bunch of experiments in which couples, who had been together more than two years on average, tried to predict which kinds of bedroom furniture the other would like. In the experiments, half the couples knew they were trying to predict their partner's preferences. The other half tried to predict the preferences of someone they were told was a stranger, but who was, in fact, their partner.

The results: Subjects were much better at predicting a stranger's preferences than their own partner's.


Lerouge and Warlop explained that when predicting what a stranger would like, we are forced to "rely on general and stereotypical information about the stranger, which can be quite diagnostic." But when predicting what our loved ones would like, we "ignore this valid information" and rely on more intimate information "that is often found to be invalid or irrelevant when predicting product attitudes."

In other words, you might remember the time when your significant other overslept because the clock's alarm was too quiet. And so you find an alarm clock with a louder alarm. Does this mean they will love their gift? Hardly.

Here are some gifts you should steer clear from for sure. Take my word for it, do NOT buy the following:

Hair removal: This includes nose hair trimmers, personal groomers, or ear hair shavers. Unless your loved one begs for one, just don't do it. Nothing says "You're a walking Sasquatch" like getting any sort of hair removal apparatus.

Stupid puzzles: If your loved one is under six year old, go for it. Otherwise, don't buy that 50,000 jigsaw puzzle. I don't care if it is the Taj Mahal. And no, it doesn't matter if it's a 3-D puzzle. This gift suggests that the recipient has too much time on their hands.

Used crap: OK, you cheapskate. Don't be going around the house looking for something to wrap and give away. You don't think we can tell? The seals on the box are all broken...duh! All the cheese popcorn in the tin is missing! Hmm.

Drug store perfumes/colognes: This stuff should be banned. Talk about tacky! Not only are you suggesting that your loved ones smells bad, but why give them something that would make them smell like a mix of potpourri and whisky? Hai-Karate anyone?

Weight loss products: Free weights, exercise videos, or a treadmill might sound like a great gift, but guys - do NOT give your lady anything to do with weight loss. Nothing says "Babe, you're a fat ass" like getting her weight loss stuff. It's about as subtle as hitting them over the head with a Honeybaked Ham.

You might as well just smack her hand when she goes for that Christmas cookie. See how that works for ya!


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Weight loss products are a bad choice for anyone!
Sad that those who know us best give crappy gifts. Sometimes my brother gets me odd things. Everyone else does really well though. Especially my wife. Two years ago she got me a guitar and that was awesome.

DEZMOND said...

I usually get none or crappy gifts :) but I myself am known for buying and giving delightful gifts that people usually like and treasure :) You just need to focus on the person you are buying the gift to!

Pat Dilloway said...

I'm giving my family books I got for free with checks in them. That way they can't return them. Last year at the Christmas party at work I got a crappy MP3 player I didn't want because I already had 3 MP3 players. Fortunately I could take it back to Kohl's and used the store credit for some forks and spoons--all I could afford at Kohl's that could actually use.

River Fairchild said...

It's sad and funny all at the same time. I hate giving money but I now resort to that rather than buy something useless or unwanted.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

I bought my older brother a radio-controlled helicopter. I figure he can chase his dog around the house with it and when it breaks, he can just throw it away. That way I can get him another next year.

Jay Noel said...

Alex: Sounds like your wife is an awesome gifter.

Dez: You're thoughtful that way!

Pat: At least you were able to get some stuff you could use. I get $50 AMEX gift cheques from my work. But I had to use it to buy a coat for my son.

River: Right. Specific vendor giftcards can be difficult too, unless you know they shop there.

Michael: I LOVE those things. I got one last year!

The Desert Rocks said...

Funny stuff. Missing popcorn? LOL

J.L. Campbell said...

The pharmacy is always the place we run to when we have to get last minute stuff, but that doesn't always turn out well. It pays to shop early.

ilima said...

This is so husband is the hardest for me to shop for!

Miranda Hardy said...

I hate trying to guess what someone would like or not. I even make my kids pick out exactly what they want.

I did, however, get my brother bacon deoderant this year. He's a cop, and his wife loves bacon. Get it?

Jay Noel said...

Eve: Unless it's sealed, you know people are grabbing that cheese popcorn from the tin.

J.L.: I've gotta a Chia Pet from Walgreens. That's why I had to include a pic!

Ilimia: I think I'm pretty tough to shop for too. I'm not so into "things."

Miranda: LOL. That's a good one!

M Pax said...

Anything to clean the house is a back gift unless it's a cleaning service. :)

My sister gave us all Chia Pets one year. I sent her a Justin Bieber toothbrush last year that sang when you used it. We like giving each other stupid gifts. It's sort of our thing.

Christine Rains said...

Great post! It does make sense. My husband never knows what to buy me and just asks what I want. I have re-gifted before, but mostly I give away the stuff we don't like or use to charity.

David List said...

Dude. That summer sausage image you put up there? I'd totally take that as a gift. (hint)
I got my wife bath salts last year (not the kind that turns you into a flesh-eater). I had to choose between "relaxation" and "sleepfullness" or some such bull carpe. So I asked a lady working there, "Would you rather get this or the other?" She spoke with some co-workers and they unanimously decided they'd rather one assumed they looked "stressed" than "tired". So I got "relaxation". And wife liked it.

Sheena-kay Graham said...

Giving your lady anything related to weight loss is the perfect way to say she is fat, ugly, unattractive or all of the above. Huge no, no. I don't usually give bad gifts because I rely more on facts. My mother loves perfumes so I bought her a gift basket with perfume, powders, etc. My mother drives a lot but I will not get her a collection of maps to expand her travels. Think people! Think!

Rusty Carl said...

Funny, I find gift-giving for the missus to be very stressful. I went out and got her a keyboard when she said she wanted to start playing music. I gave it to her and she was very sweet about it, but made it clear she really wanted a guitar.

Seems like that's pretty typical of us, but if I ask what she wants, she seems like it upsets her. I really don't enjoy the whole thing, honestly.

mooderino said...

Two words: Re, Gift.

Nothing you get that can't be passed on. Just make sure you don't give it to the person who gave it to you.

Moody Writing

Emily R. King said...

Weight loss products... isn't that a little early? That's the after Christmas rush (that's Ill be joining). :) Great list, Jay!

Julie Dao said...

One of my so-called "friends" gave me a Disney princess coloring book in high school. When I was SEVENTEEN years old. It might have been nice ten years earlier...

Anonymous said...

I'm having a wretched time finding presents this year. Even with one of the nephews and I'm pretty awesome when it comes to the boys. This year it's a lot of "Hm."

Maurice Mitchell said...

Hmmm. I guess I shouldn't get my wife that hair removal kit then. Close one Jay.

Cindy said...

I had a Chia Pet once and it was horrible. Anyway, I'm pretty good at searching out people and knowing what to get them..but when it's the same person year after does get tough. My strategy is I just ask the person. "What do you want?" Then I get it. Of course that kills the surprise, but it seems to work for me.

Jay Noel said...

I don't re-gift. But I donate a lot of stuff.

The worst/best gift I ever got was one of those grabber gopher things for old or short people that can't reach stuff high up. I say worst because it was obviously bought at Walgreens the night before. But I also say BEST because I used it to clean up leaves and stuff that got into my pond.

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